Ahmadinejad II

You’ve stolen an election. Now what?

Amadinejad doing presidenty things, like receiving the Omani foreign minister, last week.(Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

The New Republic takes a look at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will do with his ill-gotten second term as president of Iran. Abbas Milani, who previously explainedhow the schisms within Shia Islam account for Iran’s recent proto-revolutionary activity, argues that Ahmadinejad will redouble his efforts to stifle even democratic posturing within the country; that he’ll lay the groundwork for a possible presidency-for-life; and that with his regime’s legitimacy discredited by its recent brutality, he’ll cling onto his last bid credibility, Iran’s nuclear program. “More than ever,” Milani writes, the mullahs “need to claim a ‘victory’—and continuing some level of enrichment is a “red line” beyond which they will not relent.”

Ahmadinejad II [The New Republic]

Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia

And bashes Israel


The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal today carries an indignant op-ed by David Bernstein, a law professor George Mason University, about a recent Human Rights Watch fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia. He is partly indignant that HRW even ventured to the human rights-challenged kingdom. (Though it seems to us there’s nothing wrong with following Willie Sutton’s bank-robbing advice and going where the money is.) But he is mostly indignant over the pitch Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, gave to the wealthy Saudi Arabians she was hocking for money. Whitson highlighted HRW’s battles with “pro-Israel pressure groups in the U.S., the European Union, and the United Nations,” according to Bernstein. So that’s apparently what Human Rights Watch sees as its mission, taking the anti-Israel side in U.S., E.U., and U.N. debates, its Middle East director says. Sort of puts all those theoretically objective HRW reports charging the IDF of abuses in a different light, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: Tablet contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg, on his Atlantic blog reports his email exchange with HRW chief Ken Roth whether it’s true that his organization fund-raises in Saudi Arabia by touting its “battles” with pro-Israel groups. Remarkably, and after lots of evasion, Roth basically says yes.

Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia []

Today on Tablet

The stage, the couch, and the capital


Tablet Magazine’s executive editor Jesse Oxfeld interviews Mark Saltzman on his new play, The Tin Pan Alley Rag, which brings together Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin. Hadara Graubart recounts how an imperfect therapist gave her something she didn’t know she needed. Danielle O’Steen explores an exhibit on Jewish life in Washington under Abraham Lincoln, and offers a slide show in case you can’t make it to D.C. Plus, we’ll roll out new updates to The Scroll all day.

Israel Attacks With Sex Gum

Targeting Palestinian youth, Hamas says

Palestinian children selling presumably untainted gum in Gaza City.(Abid Katib/Getty Images)

Israel’s new secret weapon, according to the latest Hamas allegations—and we’re not making this up—isn’t a nuclear bomb or a long-range missile. It’s bubblegum. That makes you horny. Smuggled into Gaza by Israel. To destroy the youth of Palestine. Because, you know, missiles aren’t sexy enough.

Hamas: Israel Distributes Libido-Increasing Gum in Gaza [Ynet]

Daybreak: Klansman’s Poorly Chosen Ally

Retrial for Halimi’s killers, human rights in Gaza, and more in the news


• A fugitive Ku Klux Klan member on America’s 100 most wanted list has been turned in—by his pregnant Jewish girlfriend, with whom he was living in Israel. [JPost]
• Parisian gang members convicted of murdering the Jewish Ilan Halimi will be retried, as the court determined their sentences were “too lenient.” [Jewish Chronicle]
• After an organization called Breaking the Silence released testimony from Israeli soldiers describing excessive violence against Palestinians in the Gaza war, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak asserts that all criticism of the IDF should be presented to him, not the public. [Haaretz]
• A new report from the Center for Social Cohesion draws a connection between the far-right British National Party and neo-Nazism. [JPost]
• David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, represents for the Jews on U.S. News and World Report’s list of “Obama’s 10 Most Important Faith Leaders.” [USN&WR]

Sundown: History is the New Evolution

Reality TV, class consciousness, and grace under water


• Some conservative Christian members of an educational review board in Texas think the state’s elementary history curriculum needs to be adjusted to reflect the fact that “the foundational principles of our country are very biblical.” But don’t look at the guy named Jesús—he’s the one advocating for multiculturalism. [WSJ]
• On tonight’s episode of TNT’s Saving Grace, Mayim Bialik guest stars as a Hasidic mother of seven. The former Blossom star was impressed by the show’s commitment to an authentic portrayal of religious Jews: “I think there may have been a mezuzah facing the wrong way on one of the walls, but that’s about it.” [TV Squad]
• For those who find the mikveh too mundane a way to bring water into their spiritual lives, Florida cantor Debi Ballard is training to perform Jewish weddings underwater. [Sun Sentinel]
• A Jewish congregation generously offers its sanctuary to a black church whose building was recently damaged; the Baltimore Sun leaps to remember the rosy past when Jews were “disproportionately active in the struggle for black civil rights,” sullied now by things like “a perception, whether fair or not,” that Jewish slumlords have oppressed their black tenants. [BS]
• In a public service announcement, comedian Carol Leifer says she became vegan because she felt that “as a Jewish lesbian, I wasn’t part of a small enough minority.” [PETA]

Harry Potter

And the Jewish poetry alias

Radcliffe at Harry Potter’s New York premiere last week.(Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Two weeks ago Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe waxed poetic about his itch to write verse. “As an actor, there is room for a certain amount of creativity, but you’re always ultimately going to be saying somebody else’s words,” he told the Guardian in an interview to promote Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, opening tomorrow. “I don’t think I’d have the stamina, skill or ability to write a novel, but I’d love to write short stories and poetry, because those are my two passions.” It’s odd, or maybe just coy, that he used the conditional case—last week Rubbish, a London fashion magazine, announced on its blog that the 19-year-old has, in fact, published some poems (which include references to Kate Moss, Pete Doherty, and Simon Cowell) under the alias Jacob Gershon. Jacob is Radcliffe’s middle name; Gershon is what the magazine calls the “Jewish version” of his mother’s anglicized maiden name, Marcia Gresham Jacobson. (The poetry itself is, sadly, not available online.)

Though an atheist, Radcliffe digs his Jewish roots. “It means I have a good work ethic, and you get Jewish humour and you’re allowed to tell Jewish jokes. For instance: did you hear how copper wire was invented? Two Jews fighting over a penny. And so on.” To which we must respond: Daniel, Jacob—whatever your stand-up alias name is—please abstain from tackling comedy as your next metier.

Dan the Man [Guardian]
Daniel Radcliffe A Secret Poet? [InStyle]

Welcome to Israel! Now Stay?

Plead Maccabiah Games organizers


When you were a kid, you heard the Maccabiah Games advertised by hard-driving JCC swim instructors as a quadrennial Diasporic jamboree—an event where American Olympic legend Mark Spitz could swim as one Jew among many, rather than as the only Jew in the pool. This year, though, the Israeli government seems to be approaching the Games more as a recruitment opportunity for its own Olympic team. Last night’s opening ceremony in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, welcomed athletes from 65 countries with fireworks and trick cyclists on lit-up bicycles, along with an exploding offer from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry of $1,000 for sports gear and $300 a month in scholarships for competitors who decide to stay. “Today they represent their countries, but I hope that in the next Games many of them will march under the Israeli flag and become an inseparable part of the Israeli Olympics team,” Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said.

But as the Jerusalem Post’s Amir Mizroch points out, if the Israelis were really serious about increasing their medal haul at the London Games in 2012—from just one in Beijing last year, for windsurfer Shahar Zubari—the absorption, sports, and employment ministries would team up to subsidize overseas travel for Jewish athletes in order to make sure the Maccabiah doesn’t become “the Rich Jews’ Olympics.” In the meantime, though, we won’t hold our breath waiting to see whether first-time Maccabean (and first-time visitor to Israel) Jason Lezak, the 33-year-old who anchored the U.S. relay team to victory at the Water Cube and helped win Michael Phelps his eight gold medals, decides to take the bait.

Absorption Ministry Woos Maccabiah Athletes

Who Is First Hispanic Justice?

Sotomayor or Cardozo?

Sotomayor testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When Sonia Sotomayor was named as President Barack Obama’s first appointee to the United States Supreme Court back in May, every major newspaper declared her the first “Hispanic” justice to reside on that esteemed bench. As Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings got underway before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, the New York Times again recycled a description rife with semantic complication. So did Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman, who, in opening the hearing, placed particular emphasis on Sotomayor’s background as the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants in the Bronx and said that her appointment would be a “barrier breaker” tantamount to the appointments of Thurgood Marshall (the first black justice) or Louis Brandeis (the first Jewish justice). Properly speaking, though, why isn’t Justice Benjamin Cardozo, whose ancestry was Sephardic by way of Portugal, and who was appointed to the court by President Herbert Hoover in 1932, not considered the first Hispanic Supreme Court judge? Tablet asked Ilan Stavans, a contributing editor and the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, to help answer this controversial demographic question.

Benjamin Cardozo isn’t considered Hispanic because he didn’t come from Mexico, Central America, or the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, the three main immigrant sources feeding this country’s largest minority. Portugal doesn’t count, nor does Spain, since the Iberian Peninsula as a whole is seen popularly as the Evil Empire. Brazilians, too, are often excluded from being part of the Hispanic/Latino category because they speak Portuguese, not Spanish, although in Miami, among other places, exceptions are made in increasing fashion to make them feel part of the whole.

Needless to say, neither Hispanic nor Latino were terms in use in Justice Cardozo’s age, so he’s neither one nor the other. But the main problem, no doubt, is his religion: he was Jewish, e.g., not a Catholic, a distinction with a major difference in the Spanish-speaking community, which tends to conflate ethnic affiliation with the majoritarian faith. I say this as a Mexican Jew, the ultimate oxymoron.

Of course, in the age of Obama, categories like these are no longer what they seem—or shouldn’t be. Obama himself is a mulatto: his father was from Kenya, his mother was white. Among recalcitrant Blacks for whom slavery is the sine qua non of the African American experience, Obama is an outsider. All of which makes me wonder if Judge Sotomayor isn’t Jewish herself. After all, she grew up in the Puerto Rican diaspora, was educated among non-Hispanics, and likes the shifting game of identities.

Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He is the author of Resurrecting Hebrew (Nextbook) and, forthcoming in September, the anthology Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (Library of America).

Kournikova May Be Engaged

But definitely isn’t Jewish

Kournikova and her cross at a nightclub in Miami last year.(Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

Whatever you do, don’t assume that toothsome tennis player Anna Kournikova is Jewish. Though she was out of commission with a wrist injury, Kournikova was in Washington, D.C., this week to attend the World Team Tennis match between hometown Washington Kastles and her own team, the St. Louis Aces. When asked about her rumored engagement to Latin pop singer Enrique Iglesias, Kournikova volleyed, saying she doesn’t discuss her personal life, but a freelenace photographer in the press scrum nevertheless wished her “mazel tov.” Kournikova asked what that meant, then quickly moved to clear up matters. “I am not Jewish,” she said. “Can’t you see my cross?”

Kournikova: ‘Not Jewish—See My Cross’ [Washington Times]

Bridge the Security Fence

With soccer and cell phones, ad suggests


Cellcom, Israel’s biggest mobile phone company, is coming under fire for a new commercial which shows Israeli soldiers having fun kicking a soccer ball with unseen Palestinians on the other side of the contested wall that separates Israel and the West Bank. Knesset member Ahmed Tibi has called the ad racist and asked the company to stop running it. “The barrier separates families and prevents children from reaching schools and clinics. Yet the advertisement presents the barrier as though it were just a garden fence in Tel Aviv,” he wrote in a letter of protest. And Saeb Erekat, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said it’s “despicable to use the suffering and occupation as a means of advertisement.”

By contrast, and somewhat surprisingly, Yariv Oppenheimer, who heads the leftwing activist group Peace Now, is supporting the commercial. Its message, he told a television station, “is that there are people, normal human beings, on the other side of the fence who simply want to play football. For a commercial advertisement it is a brave move and I believe it is welcome.” For its part, all Cellcom wanted was “to get the message across that when people separated by religion, race and gender want to communicate they can, under any circumstances.”

Anger Over West Bank Football Advert [Jewish Chronicle]
Ad Showing West Bank Barrier Angers Palestinians [AP]
Israel Phone Firm’s West Bank Wall Gag Fails to Amuse [WaPo]

On Tablet Today

Justice, freedom, and sweets


Katharine Weber examines the Jewish origins of some classic candies. Michael C. Moynihan makes a case for the prosecution of former Nazi John Danjanjuk. Tablet Magazine columnist Adam Kirsch peruses the tales of Jews who fled Germany before WWII. And, of course, updates to The Scroll all day.

Jewish Leaders Meet With Obama

And everyone seems impressed

Obama at Yad Vashem last year.(Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

President Obama met yesterday with 16 leaders of 14 major U.S. Jewish groups, including the counterposed Israel advocacy lobbies, AIPAC and J-Street. In a bid to reassure those who have argued that his Middle East policy is one-sided, or focused too much on pressuring Israel to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and focusing too little on thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama seems to have emerged with nothing but favorable media coverage. Ironically, the media is precisely what Obama blamed for this perceived policy imbalance.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, wrote on the lobby’s blog that “[i]t was made clear to the President and his team the strong support that exists among American Jews and the broader public for a strong push to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for a two-state solution, and for a regional and comprehensive approach to the peace process.” The left-leaning M.J. Rosenberg at TPM Café added: “When one of the main rightwingers told Obama that he should keep his differences with the Israelis private, Obama said that had not worked in the past and he’ll go the public route.” And Lynn Sweet at The Chicago Sun-Times reports: “According to a source familiar with what occurred at the 45-minute meeting who briefed me, Obama said that he was pushing Arab and Palestinian leaders too, but the press was focused on finding divisions between the U.S. and Israel.”

Even those who disagree with Obama’s stance on settlements had warm things to say about the powwow. The Jerusalem Post quotes Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League: “He understood why we are anxious. He understood and said they have to find ways to [emphasize] the requirements they have made of the Palestinians.” And Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, who was also present for the meeting, told the paper “the president acknowledged there’s certainly a perception problem that the U.S. is pressing Israel and not the other side.” Ben Smith at Politico quotes Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council as commenting that Obama “said we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street as well.”

According to The New York Times’s Caucus blog, however, the only real critic at the meeting was Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who briefly argued with the president. Hoenlein said that diplomatic progress in the Middle East only happens when there is “no light” between the U.S. and Israel, to which Obama countered that “no light” was the situation under George W. Bush and yet nothing got done.

Obama Talks of Progress on Israeli Settlements [Reuters]

Daybreak: Meeting, Cell Phones, and Lords

Exceptions for settlers, child labor, and more in the news


• In his meeting with American Jewish leaders yesterday, President Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel, which includes his position that the government there must make compromises, as well his disappointment with the press for focusing on the negative. (Tablet will have a comprehensive summary of reactions to the meeting later today.) [AP]
• On the heels of a ruling calling for the destruction of two West Bank outposts, the chief rabbi of Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba has given permission to settlers to use their mobile phones on the Sabbath to report “suspicious” movements by the IDF. [JPost]
• Meanwhile, Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain, has been appointed to the House of Lords, here he looks forward to providing “objective, independent, considered thought to debate.” [JPost]
• A new study shows that more than half the people who work smuggling supplies through the tunnels to Gaza are under 18. [AFP]

Sundown: The Home Team

Pols, playwrights, and players


• The author of The Baseball Talmud applies statistical acumen to create a pantheon of Jewish players. [WNYC]
• Check out an excerpt from Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family, about the powerful Christian cabal in Washington including Mark Sanford, which highlights its reliance on King David—who “liked to do really, really bad things”—as a political model. [Killing the Buddha]
• JTA surveys attempts by a new generation of Sephardic Jews—or, as Aviva Ben Ur, author of Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History, prefers, “non-Ashkenzic Jews”—to reconnect with their cultural heritage. [JTA]
• In a new memoir, Alice Eve Cohen, author of the play Hannah and the Hollow Challah and others, discusses going through with a surprise pregnancy discovered on Rosh Hashanah when she was 44 years old. [NYT]

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.